(Ok people. I've been writing some long ones so I'm gonna try and keep this one short, and still practical. If you hadn't noticed, I'm trying to give you at least one practical and actionable item you can use to improve your setup in each post. As always, and especially for this post, please support by subscribing to the email list and commenting and sharing on social media.)
Let me get right to the point here. Forget Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc etc. Your mailing list is where it's at. Ok, Ok...don't forget them, but understand this crucial point. Social media sites come and go...think Friendster, MySpace, Vine, Meerkat, and a slew of other companies I've never even heard of. And even if they buck the trend and miraculously stay around, they are constantly changing their algorithms, features, and functions whenever and however they want. That means if you build up your fan network and communications entirely through them, you are at risk of them changing the very feature that you rely on to grow or communicate with your network. Or worse, you risk entirely losing that network you worked so hard to build if the company goes out of business, gets acquired, or simply becomes unpopular. Not to mention, you have to craft each post catering to the unique strengths of each platform.
Your mailing list, on the other hand, gives you complete control...and remember, that's what this musician revolution is all about. It's about how each of us DIY musicians have all these great tools to be able to "make it" as musicians today.
Email is here to stay. Until something game-changing comes along, something as game changing as the internet which will change EVERYTHING as we know it, I think people will continue to use email. And sure, some people will change their address over the years, but by and large, people stick with what they have. Case in point, I still regularly get people signing up to my email list with AOL, Hotmail, and Yahoo addresses. So 1999, right? The point is, your mailing list gives you complete control and access to your fans who have signed up.
And here's an encouraging fact. You can make some serious income with as little as 1000 mailing list subscribers. Do a little math...I know you're a musician and math is hard so leave it to this former mechanical engineer! Let's just say conservatively that you can get 1/4 of your subscribers to donate to your crowdfunding album. Your lowest tier donation is $10 so you're going to get a minimum of $2500 (1/4 of 1000 = 250, 250 X $10 = $2500)...and I'd say that's being conservative. You're going to average more because that's your lowest tier and these are your fans...they OPTED-IN to your mailing list. They want to support you! Maybe you can build up to 2000 subscribers and get a Patreon going. Using those same figures (1/4 of your subscribers at $10) you could bring in over $5k a year. Sure, you can't subsist on $5k a year, but these are conservative numbers for what I think is a realistic minimum for ANYONE...there are a ton of artists who are making a serious living off that modest number of fans. And remember, this is just one potential revenue stream among so many that have become available to us in this new music business.
Does 1000 subscribers sound like a lot? Well break it down. If you're averaging 20 signups per show that's 50 shows, or about 1 year if you play once per week. I make over 100 appearances per year, so that could be as little as 6 months if you play that often. You've got your own situation obviously, and you still have to build it one fan at a time, but bottom line, it's totally doable!
To be clear, I'm NOT suggesting you abandon social media. Social media is a tremendously powerful and critically important tool for us. And quite frankly, you don't want to communicate to your mailing list with the same frequency and type of content as you do on social media. Just understand social media's limitations, and do not make any one social media platform the entirety or even the backbone of your fan communication. Here's another way to think of it...social media algorithm changes and business closings aside, would you rather have 1000 page likes/followers or 1000 mailing list subscribers. I'd unquestionably choose the mailing list subscribers...the people who were willing to give you a direct line of communication to them are much more likely to be interested in engaging with and supporting you than someone who just clicks like on Facebook. Ok, if by now you don't agree with me, then we're just going to have to agree to disagree.
What you do with that mailing list is a topic for another blog. I'm not going to talk about all of the online options for collecting email addresses here, such as mp3 for email exchange sites like NoiseTrade, or plastering a sign-up form all over your website, and posting links on your social media.
I want to focus on two ideas for easily collecting email addresses at your shows or appearances, but first of all, do not add anyone to your mailing list who has not explicitly given you permission to do so. In some states, it is illegal, but equally important it's annoying to receive email from a list you didn't sign up for. For me, every time I receive an email like that, I get annoyed at the person who sent it, instead of interested in what they're sending me. That's the exact opposite effect you want to have on your mailing list subscribers. (Ok ok, I break this rule with some of my closest friends and family who I KNOW without any shadow of a doubt want to support me and know what I'm up to. But aside from that, seriously don't do it.)
It used to be that I would set out a clipboard with a pen and some print outs of a spreadsheet with columns marked name, email, zip code on it, and then after each gig I would spend 10 seconds entering 2 email addresses from humans, 10 seconds smiling at the prank signups (ie Seymour Butts), and then about an hour trying to decipher what appeared to be hieroglyphics from the rest of the new subscribers who had scribbled on the pad. I was constantly having to remember to print and carry the spreadsheets, the pens were always somehow disappearing so people couldn't sign up even if they wanted to, and overall it was time consuming and ineffective.
I have finally scrapped that method and am happy to report that for about $100, and about 30 minutes of setup, I've managed to completely streamline this process and collected over 200 new subscribers in 15 small shows this past summer. All that and more in Part 2.
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